In the early 1980s critical policy analysts began to aim their arrows at one of the key claims of positivist, technocratic policy science: its alleged neutral stance towards the politically charged issues that were the subject of its investigations and analyses. In fact, from its onset as an institutionalized discipline, the strict separation of knowledge and politics has been the raison d'être of traditional policy analysis. Through the application of neutral, scientific methods policy analysts would be able to generate objective knowledge that suggested optimal solutions to a broad range of social and economic problems. By systematically collecting and analysing the ‘facts of the matter’, traditional policy analysis claimed to be the voice of rationality, even the final cognitive arbiter, in a contested political world.
A number of critical scholars, such as Douglas Torgerson, Frank Fischer and Douglas Amy argued convincingly that this foundationalist self-image of positivist policy analysis was profoundly misguided. The neutral methods of scientific policy analysis itself presupposed strong assumptions about the constitution of society. These scholars asserted that the methodology and epistemology of positivist policy analysis tacitly assumed – and required – a certain hierarchical societal ordering. A ‘scientistic’, quantitative policy analysis was itself part of a particular institutional order in which political and economic elites, effectively insulated from the citizens' voice, sought to design economically efficient and technologically efficacious solutions to what they perceived as society's problems.